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A Cheating Situation 

With online courses and overcrowded classes, cheating in college is easier than ever

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"Jenna," a San Francisco State University senior, recalls getting her first smartphone and how it got her through a challenging class. "My best friend had taken chemistry the semester before me, passed the class with an A and saved all of his tests and worksheets," Jenna says. "I would take pictures with my phone of the tests and diagrams, then I would just slide my finger over the photos and draw them exactly how they were. Needless to say, I aced all my tests, had no idea what the hell I was doing and never got caught."

"I've seen students use PDF smartphone applications to cheat," says "Sarah," a San Francisco State University junior. "They can search, or find, certain keywords or sentences, which help students search their notes fairly quickly."

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These applications are readily available and cheap. iCheat, a smartphone app offering a toolbox of cheating aids, is less than $4.

"We are much more reliant on uploaded lecture Powerpoints, multiple quiz attempts online and online group tests than ever before," says "Justin," a San Francisco State University senior. "While cheating a decade ago meant copying answers off of your neighbor's paper," Justin says, "I think it has recently evolved into something much more complex and planned out." Justin has seen forum sites for sharing test answers, and sites that sell research papers or the answers to multiple-choice tests.

But while technology assists cheating, it also helps fight it. "Technology can actually help you catch people who are cheating. I know a lot of professors use turnitin.com, which pre-scans for plagiarism," Diane says. Turnitin.com, along with similar websites, compares a student's written work with a database of over 20 billion pages found online, resulting in an easy detection for rampant cut-and-pasting plagiarism.


"I find that neither student nor teacher is doing their job when everything is online," says "Jake," a Sonoma State University junior. "Online, you are a name on a paper, and when you are in class they don't have any association with who you are. The whole system seems to be facilitating cheating." The relationships that are formed within a classroom often provoke critical thinking and deter cheating; online, this is lost.

"It's different if you are in a class with 250 students and the teacher doesn't even know your name. I think having a rapport keeps students from cheating," Diane says. "I try to establish a rapport with each student. I think that goes a long way."

Technology aside, students deem the pressures of an increasingly competitive world to be, in part, the reason for dishonest academics. "Considering the amount of academic success and work experience expected from students post-graduation, there is an immense amount of pressure for our generation to succeed in multiple environments," Justin says.

Justin is an accomplished student completing both a major and a minor—maintaining a 4.0 GPA, working two part-time jobs during the semester and getting up before dawn three times a week for an unpaid internship. "I think my opinion of cheating has completely changed since entering college," Justin says. "While I was completely against it in high school, I have come to realize its unfortunate place in academia."


Why do students cheat? "Paul" is a better-than-average senior at San Francisco State University with a 3.8 GPA and, in his view, the Western grading system is justification for cheating. "There is a problem with our system," Paul says. "We are ranked by our GPA, which is not an accurate assessment of our knowledge. Just because one student has a GPA of 2.0 does not mean that they are less driven, hard-working or intelligent than a student with a 4.0."

  • With online courses and overcrowded classes, cheating in college is easier than ever

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